[Where are they now?] Mitch writes from Japan

Former SE teacher Mitchell Burbick moved to Japan after teaching with Super English, like Amy.  Here’s his perspective, one year later:

After Thailand I moved to the middle of Japan. I’ve been living at altitude, in this little valley between the two huge, country-splitting mountain chains all year. It’s been wild. Living in Japan after Thailand made me feel like the King of France. After a year and a half of trash bucket showers, cockroach invasions, mold growing on absolutely everything, living in a new apartment in a modern and developed country was like moving back to America, only the Asian version. It’s been great, but lacks some of the wild west adventure feeling you get in Thailand. I drive a car here, not a piece of shit about to kick it Hello Kitty motorbike. The trains are quick and on time, no pulling into Bangkok 7 hours late after a night train failed to show up at Phun Phin until 3AM in the morning.

But with the development and comfort of living comes a pretty expensive price tag. There are no night markets to peruse, no rice kitchens with nice ladies who smile really big around the corner. There are no filthy street dogs to love, no stray cats to take babies from, no island adventures on the weekend. The price of living here is extravagant, and I live in the country. Alcohol by far is my single largest expense apart from actual rent, and that’s not cheap either. The money made here is good, and saving is much more of a reality than it is in Thailand, but only through budgeting, staying local most weekends, cooking at home pretty much all the time, can it be realized.

I’ve loved Japan as I loved my time in Thailand. The two experiences have been about as drastically different as they could be however, in almost every aspect. It’s been really good to see two different paths in the spectrum of teaching ESL, to be able to know a different life, a different country, doing the same thing. I’ve asked myself if one has been better than the other constantly, but it’s a question I’m unable to answer. Both are what they are, were, have been. And what is life if not for seeing all the strange things you can get yourself into?

[Where are they now?] Amy writes from Japan — by Brittany

As it’s the end of the school year, I thought it’d be nice to hear from former SE teachers to find out where they are now and how their lives have changed (or not) since moving from Thailand to presumably colder regions of the world.  Here’s what Amy McIntyre had to say:


After Surat Thani I moved to Japan.  It is COMPLETELY different!   It was a real shock to the system coming here, it made me realize even  more how good I had it in Thailand.  They are workaholics here and the amount of hours was difficult at the beginning.  I am near the end of my contract now, after a few months I have settled in nicely.  I do love my kids and my job, I feel rather sad to say good bye to Japan, however this experience has been completely different from Thailand!

I loved, loved working for Super English, I loved the weather and the amount of time I had off to be able to travel, I loved being so close to the beach, I loved owning a motor bike, I loved having a great social life, there was always a party some where.  Peter was an amazing boss and all the Super staff really helped me gain confidence in the class room.  Not that I had many problems but if I did there was always some one to help me out!  I LOVE the school i work for now, but my company does suck a little!  There are many things I love about Japan, the people, the culture, the food, my kids, my friends, my apartment.

The biggest thing I dislike is it get really cold in the winter in Japan.  Like I said the hours are pretty crazy, which doesn’t give me much of a social life, and although I am making more money, I don’t get much time off to travel, and when I do Japan is ridiculously expensive to go any where.  As I said at the begining it took me a few months to settle here, and a long time to meet other English speaking people, whereas in Thailand I’d say I felt right at home after a day.  Completely different experiences, both amazing!  I will be moving to America shortly.   I am feeling  nervous to move back to a western country, and sadly I will not be teaching, I have no clue what I’ll be doing which makes it more of an adventure.  I am getting married which is extremely exciting though!  And I definitely will be back in Asia in a few years to come!

My advice for anyone leaving – get as many massages as you can, eat every thing you possibly can and soak it up at the beach!  Be thankful you had the opportunity and be excited for the next adventure! 

Stuff Thai People Like #6: Ridiculously Easy Wireless Passwords — by Brittany

Over the last two months, two new coffee shops have opened up in the vicinity of the Big House. Right now, I’m writing this post from Coffee Love, a cute new place off of Chalokratt (from the Big House, go straight up our street, pass the intersection and then turn right when the street dead ends. It’s on your right).

After I ordered a cold mocha (50 baht, by the way), I asked if they had wireless, and the waitress very helpfully told me the password: 999999999.

Ten 9s? I should have known. The other coffee shop that opened up, The Nines (also on Chalokratt, on the left, just past the intersection) has the EXACT same password. Coincidence? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that the other option for passwords here is usually 123456789. Or 9876543210 if they’re feeling fancy. Next time I’ll just try to guess the password and then secretly feel like a hacker when I get it right.

Have you ever noticed the waiter or waitress looking mildly perplexed when you ask them the password? I swear I sometimes see some upper-lip sweat break out. They’ll look embarrassed, rush to find a pencil and paper, write the numbers down very carefully, and hand it over, hoping you’ll understand. Maybe verbally articulating 10 descending or ascending numbers is akin to asking them to explain the quadratic formula. ….Maybe.

It is my sincere hope that writing this post will save some staff members some password sweat 🙂

Let’s see, if I had to add two more things to Stuff Thai People Like (the Coffee Shop edition), I would probably add: #6.1 Uncomfortable Chairs and #6.2: Posing for Pictures on Uncomfortable Chairs.

What do you think about the coffee shops in town? Any more passwords you care to give away? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Exhibition Day — by Blake

Recently I got to experience my second “Exhibition Day”. It’s an annual day of festivities at Suratpittaya School where I teach Mathayom 3 and 4. Exhibition Day is awesome for a few reasons.

Ryan holding the target for the paper airplane game

Ryan holding the target for the paper airplane game

First of all, there’s no class. I love teaching, but who doesn’t love getting paid for a day of playing games and having fun with your students and co-workers? Instead of the usual office hours and scheduled classes, the other farang teachers and I just have to play English-speaking games with the students for a couple hours outside at our booth. We’re also fed free food all day. It’s fun, relaxing, and a nice change of pace from the daily grind. After that I we’re free to roam around and check out the other booths and activities.

sentence scramble

sentence scramble

The other booths and activities are another cool part of Exhibition Day. It gives me a chance to see what kind of material the other departments are teaching (even though its mostly in Thai, so I don’t understand). There is also students’ artwork, science projects, and awards on display. It’s interesting to see what work the students’ do outside of the English Department.

student invention

student invention

student art

student art

Last but certainly not least, the best part of Exhibition Day is the students. It comes at the end of the year and is a great chance to get to hang out with the kids outside of the classroom. There’s a ton of games and sports to play, as well as entire rows of tables set up to do arts and crafts. This is also a good time to get pictures with the students before they leave for summer break. Towards the end of the day, the students put on a play and even have a crazy talent show where they sing karaoke and have dance offs with each other. How amazingly Thai. How amazingly awesome. I can’t wait ‘til next year.

Students putting on a play

Students putting on a play

Little Pooping — by Amber

Teaching P1s means lots of germs. Most of my kids have snot coming out of their noses 24 hours a day. And of course they all want to high-five you (this is where fist bumping comes in handy). Of course, runny noses aren’t the only types of leakages that happen in my classrooms. My first day of class, I called on a girl to answer a question. She stood up, looked nervous, and then peed all over the floor. I’m not sure what the protocol for this sort of spill is back home, but here it means the offending kid gets the mop and cleans it up.

I’ve been fortunate enough, relatively speaking of course, to only have two, hmm, solid spills. I’m sure it happens much more frequently than I’m a witness too though. As Cru Sao once said “Oh, he’s not wearing a uniform because he shit himself.” She then remembered that I taught her more polite ways to say the word shit and she corrected herself and said “Oh, I mean #2 in his pants.”

Yesterday in one of my classes, I suddenly noticed my Thai teacher missing. No big deal, happens a lot. Then I looked outside to where the kid bathroom is and saw her and their regular teacher running around. Turns out that Little (pictured) had “poo pooed his pants.” I could only see what the teachers were doing and it was hilarious. They stripped him down in the bathroom and then got a hose out from who knows where and were hosing the fat naked kid down in front of his classmates. Little is definitely not little, as his name might lead you to believe. He is a BIG kid. Apparently there were no spare uniforms that were big enough to fit him, and as his clothes were covered in #2, that left the Thai teachers with one option. To cover him from head to toe in baby powder, wrap his swim towel around his waist, and put him back in class for the rest of my lesson.

So, I’m now expected to teach a class while I have a fat kid with no shirt covered in baby powder smirking at me. Thankfully everyone else was laughing, including Little, so that saved me a bit. The lesson went on, he did his writing, and that was that. Just as I was leaving the class, I turned to wave to them and I see the kid sitting in front of Little poking him in the belly. Little’s response? Lifting his towel and flashing the kid. Props.

Stuff Thai People Like – (#5 Plastic Bags) — by Amber

It really is a sad thing to see so much plastic discarded on the street and in the rivers (and beaches). I have seen some ads on TV to encourage people in Thailand to use re-usable bags, but I’ve never actually seen it happen. Maybe it’s just Surat.

Regardless of where you are though, Thai people love their plastic bags. And straws. It never fails. I’ll order something from a street vendor and they put the item into a small plastic bag. That’s fine because it’s usually a ready-to-eat food item that can’t fore-go the bag. This is where it gets ridiculous. They take the first bag and put it into a slightly bigger bag! Why?!

They put soda and other drinks in plastic bags and stab a straw through it. They have plastic bag type holders for drinks in plastic cups. They use straws to drink water out of bottles. It’s absolutely crazy how much plastic Thai people use.

So do the world a favor while you are here. If you don’t need the bag, say “mai sai toong” and help keep bad plastic off the streets.

What a difference a desk makes — by Amber

I have a horrible class. When I say horrible, that’s really a huge understatement. They are the most miserable bunch of children I have ever laid eyes on. And I get to see them every day.

Nothing I do can control them. They are constantly speaking at scream level, rolling around on the floor, and hitting each other. Even their regular teachers looks at me apologetically whenever I come in to take over.

Recently (a bit too late I should add), I started noticing the difference between my really good classes and this class. My really good classes all have their desks in perfect rows. Their chairs are pushed in when they are not in the class. Their backpacks are zipped and placed neatly on their chairs. Anything they might have besides their backpack has been stored out of sight.

In my chaotic class, the room is chaotic even when they aren’t in there. The desks are in no order and are randomly shoved in different directions. Chairs are tipped over or no where near the desk they belong too. Backpacks spewing their contents all over the floor. Bags of wet swimsuits all over the place. It’s a disaster area.

I mentioned this to Joseph about a month ago, and he said that he occasionally straightens everything in a class if the students haven’t arrived. Today I finally decided to give this a go. My kids were about 10 minutes late because someone was lecturing them downstairs. So I lined all the desks up, pushed in their chairs, put backpacks on desks (or just kicked them under things so they were out of aisles).

Shortly afterwards the wildest of my kids burst through the door, screaming at the top of their lungs and slapping the blackboard like the do everyday. But soon, after everyone had sat down, the strangest thing happened. I explained that they had a test and what they were to do while I was testing. Once I sat down, there was COMPLETE and utter silence. You could hear a pin drop. I didn’t even tell them to be quiet once. They just started working. That has NEVER happened in that class. Even at their quietest there is always one little brat screaming. It was unreal and amazing. Sure it didn’t last all class. Slowly they started wiggling their desks around, but that was the most well behaved they have ever been.

I just wish I had figured that out 9 months ago.

Stuff Thai People Like #4 – (Making Noise) — by Amber

Thai people are some of the noisiest people on the planet (according to me). They just love to hear themselves being loud and that loudness comes in all sorts of forms.

Take Thai kids for example. I’m pretty sure their favorite past time is whacking their rulers on their desks. They love it so much and do it so often that I have completely banned rulers from all of my classes. I thought this form of noise was strictly confined to Thai kids, but oh no. Thai teachers love to slap those things on any hard surface they can find, just like their miniature counterparts.

Thai people blare music out of speakers mounted on their trucks and drive through quiet suburbs at 6am trying to sell crap that the people that live in the area didn’t want the last 10 times they drove through that early. Thai people love blasting horrible Thai pop music out of their cell phones in public places (like movie theaters, classrooms, and night boats) so that everyone can know that they have music on their phone.

I think their favorite way to make noise is with a microphone. Thai people LOVE microphones. They have them in schools, in cars, on the street, in shopping centers, in bars and in karaoke clubs. In school, the teachers practically fall over each other trying to get their chance to yell into the mic to 2000 uninterested kids. Thai kids fight each other to announce things to other Thai kids. Adults set up microphones on street corners to yell unknown motivation to their peers. Trucks drive through neighborhoods with ads blaring out of the speakers. Scantily clad Thai women yell into mics to get passersby to look at whatever energy drink or shoe they happen to be promoting.

Most of all Thai people love karaoke. It fulfills their need to make noise in public spaces while keeping them contained to a room full of their friends, all vying for the mic. If only all of their microphone antics were confined to private rooms. Oh well. Bring earplugs.

Stuff Thai [students] Like (#3: Cheating) — by Blake

Anyone who has taught Thai students, regardless of what age or level, knows that they have absolutely no shame when it comes to cheating.  This is one of the most frustrating things that I deal with in the classroom.  I see it almost everyday in some shape or form.  It ranges from writing the answer on their hand so they win a game we’re playing to blatant, word for word copying on an essay assigned for homework.  Once I assigned a project for the students to make a travel brochure for any destination that they wanted to.  One group gave me an actual brochure to real hotel in Phuket and told me that they made it.  Seriously?  Seriously. Ugh.

Let’s be honest.  Do students in America or England or Australia cheat in school?  Of course; there are some students that cheat in any and every high school on the planet.  Then why is it so much more maddening in Thailand?  Well, I can tell you one of the reasons it annoys me… Because they’re soooo amazingly BAD at it!

The past few weeks I have been wrapping up testing with my M3 and M4 students.  Part of their final exam was a speaking and listening test in which I would call out three students at a time and ask them questions from the study guide that I gave them the week prior.  The questions were exactly the same as on the study guide and with just a bit of effort and studying any student should’ve been able to pass this test.  Anyway, I can’t tell you how many times, right in front of me the students tried to cheat when they didn’t know an answer.  Usually, they’d look to the smartest student of the three for the answer.  Maybe they thought I couldn’t see or hear them whispering to each other 2 feet in front me.  Sometimes they would speak in Thai, asking each other what the answer was, like that’s okay.  Ahhhh!  Frustration.

Why does this happen?  I think there’s two main reasons.  One is because there’s usually no serious consequences.  Back in the States if you get caught cheating, it’s a failing grade, a call home, and detention or even suspension.  Here in Thailand, there’s usually not more than a slap on the wrist (literally) from the Thai teacher.  I also think it has to do with the culture in how the students always want to help each other succeed.  Sometimes the students weren’t asking their smart friend for the answer, but the friend was trying to whisper it to them anyway.  Even when we play games in class, sometimes the winning team helps the opposing team that they’re playing against.  In the end, I guess different cultures and school systems will tolerate and look at cheating in different ways.  But it still drives me nuts.

Stuff Thai People Like (# 2: Driving like maniacs) — by Blake

For the past month I have been giving my students their final exams.  After each class I call out the names of the students that I do not have test scores from for whatever reason.  If the student whose name I called is not there, the other students chime in and tell me why.  There are the expected answers like, “Teacher, he skip,” or, “Teacher, he sick.”  But one answer that comes up quite often (that I would not expect to hear at all) is, “Teacher, he dead.”

Just this semester, I had four or five students get killed, all due to auto accidents.  Anyone who has lived in or even visited Thailand knows that the way they drive here is absolutely insane!  There are traffic laws but, let’s be honest, they’re really more like suggestions.  I see people drive on the wrong side of the road, run lights, refuse to look when pulling out into traffic, and do a million other idiotic things every time I get on the road.  It’s frustrating.  It’s ridiculous.  It’s dangerous.

You take the ignorant Thai driving habits and combine it with the fact that most people are on motorbikes or scooters and you have a deadly recipe.  I’ve seen kids driving motorbikes down the street that couldn’t be more than 9 years old.  I’ve seen entire families (and I’m talking husband driving, kid in front of him, kid behind him, fat wife on the back, and she’s holding a baby) piled on to one motorbike.  I don’t know the exact statistics for auto accidents per year in Thailand (I should watch The Hangover 2 again), but somewhere around 13,000 people a year are killed (according to Wikipedia).

I even attended a Buddhist funeral this semester because the son of one of the Thai teachers in the English Department had been killed in a traffic accident.  I’ve only been in Thailand for a year and a half and I can’t even count how many times I have eye witnessed accidents happening right in front of me.

It’s strange.  Thai people, in every other fashion of life, are quite slow and, non-urgent, and, I dare to say, lazy.  But put them behind the wheel (or handlebars) and for some reason all patience is lost.  I’m not saying any of this to scare people, but the situation, I feel, should be addressed.  But I guess that would call for the government actually doing something productive.  Hmmmm.

They start 'em young here.

They start em young here.